I am somewhat surprised that Owen Paterson, who I have huge respect for, having been an excellent Agriculture minister, has been reported as saying at a secret ‘Brexit seminar’ of former Cabinet Ministers, that the Prime Minister should follow the example of New Zealand, which ended government support for farmers, virtually overnight in the 1980s.
During the session, which was reported by the Mail on Sunday, Mr Paterson argued that there were lessons to be learnt from the policy adopted by New Zealand….’which demonstrated that food production can increase when farmers are given the freedom to react to the market’.
To compare the UK with New Zealand does not make much sense. For a start they have a population of just 4.6 million, which equates to 15 people per square kilometre. England has 413 per square kilometre and rapidly rising, Wales 149 and Scotland 68.
Life and farming are quite different in New Zealand compared to the UK, and I wonder if Owen Paterson has taken that into account. He may advocate the benefits brought about by slashing the government support but he fails to acknowledge that New Zealand has an entirely different natural environment, and even today has the highest rate of farmer suicides in the world. I doubt that is something he would knowingly wish to risk in the UK, where it is already too high.
The Single Farm Payment does require radical reform, but it should be done gradually, not overnight, and with a total understanding regarding which farms should continue to receive payments, and where costs can be saved.
There are many farms which can manage quite comfortably without financial support, but just as many which will always need support. It remains essential that those farmers are supported in their work in maintain the countryside by farming, not turning it into wildlife or municipal parks, or selling up to developers.
It is essential that it is the right people who make these decisions, not civil servants, academics, politicians or environmentalist. If they want some advice on who it should be, I would be happy to point them in the right direction.
At last the process of releasing the UK from the grips of the EU has begun with the triggering of Article 50. Who wouldn’t be delighted and optimistic about the opportunities ahead, once full independence is achieved in two years’ time?
It is now vital that the PM acknowledges that it is she who holds all the best cards. It is certain that if we want to maintain good long-term relations with the EU, we must remain outside the single market and customs Union, and not become ensnared in negotiations around the matter of concessions on freedom of movement.
We will still continue to trade with the EU, and would meet it’s regulations and perhaps paying low tariffs. This would open up the opportunity to trade outside the customs union, and to negotiate our own trade agreements with 85pc of the world economy, outside the EU. And of course our imports would be cheaper, as we would be free of Brussels’s common external tariff.
Liam Halligan wisely advises the government to get on and guarantee the residency rights of the vast majority of the 3m or so EU nationals currently living and working here. As he says, it is economically, strategically and morally the sensible thing to do.
This would not only be welcomed by the UK-based EU nationals, but also by their employers who rely on them to work in health care, catering, finance and agriculture. As he said, such rights will eventually be confirmed anyway, as will those regarding the 1.2m British citizens living in the EU. This would give the message loud and clear, that Britain remains an open, tolerant country, and would positively kick start our Article 50 talks. It is vital that the PM sets the agenda.